Looking for a 360-degree camera to fully capture the action on your next ski-trip? If you search on Google for a recommendation, chances are one particular device will keep cropping up on “Best of” lists – the Insta360 One X. Techradar and Forbes lists the Insta360 One X as its top choice, and prior to the device’s release, tech review site Wirecutter said that the Insta360 One X had higher specifications on paper than its top pick from Japan’s Ricoh. But what few may realise is that Insta360, which produces 360-degree cameras that beat GoPro devices, is a 4-year old Shenzhen based-company, helmed by 28-year old Liu Jingkang. Liu, a native of Guangdong province, founded a live-streaming start-up in his final year at Nanjing University in early 2014 but decided to pivot when he watched and became fascinated by a 360-degree video. At the time, companies who wanted to film high-definition video had to organise a rig of multiple cameras in a sphere, and then stitch the resultant images together to get the 360-degree effect. “We wanted to create a camera that could take a 360-video with just one press of a button,” said Liu in an interview on the sidelines of the CES trade show in Las Vegas last week. He enlisted the help of several schoolmates and eventually they made it from Nanjing to Shenzhen – the Southern Chinese port city known for its hardware factories. The best 360-degree action camera: GoPro Fusion or Insta360 One X? “Initially, it was really difficult to convince manufacturers to take a chance on us,” said Liu. “Almost nobody had made a 360-degree camera before, it was difficult to convince them that there was a market for such a device.” Liu and his team faced a number of technology challenges, chief among them being the need for 360-degree cameras to film in high-resolution. It was also a struggle to obtain financing as they were a young team fresh out of university, trying to make a new device. Initial prototypes of the 360-camera were extremely fragile and unreliable. In the early days, the team would carry around a toolkit, including a welder and glue if they needed to fix up the prototype quickly before important demos. But they did find investors and today China is Insta360’s largest market, accounting for 25 per cent of sales. The US is a close second at just over 20 per cent, followed by Japan, at around 18 per cent. Insta360’s success reflects how many Chinese hardware firms and manufacturers have now reached a level where they are snapping at the heels of some of the world’s biggest brands. This is in stark contrast to the situation a decade ago, when Chinese brands were seen as cheap knock-offs with inferior build quality, while Japanese brands were often seen as the benchmark for quality electronics. Insta360 frequently receives plaudits for its innovative software features and easy-to-use app that enables even beginners to edit and produce professional-looking videos. Its software is seen as cutting edge and Liu attributes this to Insta360’s massive research and development (R&D) team. “About 60 per cent of our team is in R&D, that’s more than we actually need but a large team allows us to keep thinking ahead, to think about what our competitors might be doing next and creating features that our consumers want,” Liu said. Insta360 Nano S review: 4K 360-degree camera top value for money One of Insta360’s notable features is its flowstate stabilisation, which stabilises images as if users were holding a gimbal. Another is the ability of its software to automatically detect and edit out a selfie-stick, so that the final video doesn’t show it. However, Liu acknowledged that technology and hardware is not the ‘be all and end all’ for consumer electronics companies. Ultimately, for a consumer device to succeed, companies need an integrated strategy – including a strong marketing team and a clear product definition. At its CES booth in Las Vegas, Insta360 showed off just how far it would go to get users to try out its product. “Recycle your action camera”, said a sign above a blue trash bin, “Get a free One X”, said another. Attendees who decided to part with their current action camera – whether a GoPro or a cheaper, no-brand device – were given a brand new Insta360 One X. “You could have the best product or technology in the world but if you don’t have the ability to market it, or don’t understand what consumers want, it’s difficult to do well,” said Liu, who hopes that one day Insta360 will become a camera brand as big as Nikon or Sony in the global market.